By Christopher Walsh.
The website of The New York Times is reporting that Atlantic Records claims that digital sales now account for more than half its revenue.
Every observer of music sales charts has seen this coming, yet crossing this threshold seems plenty significant to this one. I recently went through a stack of LPs that have been sitting in my apartment for years, with no turntable on which to play them, and carted about half to the Salvation Army. I’d long since replaced most of them on CD or via download, but sifting through them brought back memories of being a broke teenager, spending my last three or four dollars on a scratchy, second-hand Stones LP at Nuggets in Boston’s Back Bay, taking it home and playing it endlessly, skips, clicks, pops, crackles and all (the music was pretty good, too).
I love iTunes; as I type, on the day before Thanksgiving in midtown Manhattan, a bouncy number by the Vince Guaraldi Trio plays on the laptop. I’ve purchased many a song or album on iTunes, most recently “Real Love” by Lucinda Williams.
In iTunes, I was finally able to acquire that one song I’d wanted for years but didn’t want the entire album. I was never going to buy the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, for example, but my guilty pleasure, “How Deep is Your Love,” was, if memory serves, the very first song I bought from the iTunes Store. Well worth the 99 cents and 25-year wait.
For consumers, iTunes rocks. For the music industry, though, and for recording professionals and studios, the picture is not as rosy. The Times article notes that “[w]hile digital delivery is becoming a bigger slice of the pie, the overall pie is shrinking fast.” We’ve all seen a lot of studios close, and I know more than a few recording engineers desperately seeking new sources of revenue. Of course, change is the only constant, and humans have a seemingly infinite capacity to adapt. But down in the trenches, adapting is sometimes easier said than done. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas being implemented–by commercial studios, freelance engineers and everyone else–to supplement or replace dwindling label projects and indie-artist budgets. As my friend Steve Rosenthal of the Magic Shop said in our June issue, “It’s important that studio owners look at the studio as a base to try to develop other ideas.” Feel free to share yours; we’re all friends here, right?
I love me some Jimi Hendrix recordings–and who doesn’t? But I think my CD of Electric Ladyland–I bought it on cassette too, long ago–must soon be joined by At Last… The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland, a DVD by Experience Hendrix, coming December 9 from Universal Music Enterprises. A 40th anniversary edition of this landmark double album, the PR materials assert that At Last… “documents the creation of the album that was released in the fall of 1968 as a 2 LP set. Some of Jimi’s closest associates are seen on screen discussing their recollections of Hendrix and the project … One of the highlights of the program includes a session with original Electric Ladyland engineer Eddie Kramer who discusses the techniques Hendrix, [Mitch] Mitchell and [Noel] Redding employed in recording Electric Ladyland and playing some of the original multitrack tapes to illustrate the process.”_
You may have seen this before–it was produced in 1997 as the premiere episode of the Classic Albums series–but like many DVD titles, this is one I think I need to own (and, one hopes, will soon reside on a shelf right next to Jimi Plays Berkeley, another staggering performance available on DVD).
I vividly recall visiting Studio C at Kampo Studios in the spring of 2000, where Kramer was creating a surround mix of Hendrix’s 1970 Isle of Wight performance, also for DVD. Eddie took a break, we retired to the iso booth, sat on the floor and talked at length–he talked, I listened, that is–as he recalled working with the artist and shared his ideas about recreating the mix for the surround-sound era.
Another set of re-releases have caught my eye, or, ear: on September 30, Concord Music Group, which acquired Fantasy Records in 2004, released Creedence Clearwater Revival’s first six albums, remastered and expanded with rarities, in Digi-Paks. I believe–but am not certain–that many, or even all, of these classic albums were recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, as seen in the Studio Showcase in the July issue of Pro Sound News. I hope someone will set me straight. I’d check the liner notes, but I don’t have the CDs. Yet.
Avatar Studios has launched a website/podcast called Oral Studio History, produced and presented by Avatar Studios. The first installment, introduced by Avatar’s Kirk Imamura, features Malcolm Addey in a thorough (five segments!) reminiscence of his years at Abbey Road Studios, Bell Sound Recording and A&R Studios. It’s well worth your time, and congrats to Kirk and his crew for creating and sharing this with us.
I’ll finish today with this thought: As we gather and celebrate with family and friends over the next several weeks, please keep in mind what’s really important in this life. It’s entirely too easy to get “caught up in the material world,” as George Harrison sang, especially during the mania of shopping and consuming, and consuming more. My own better half and in-laws suffered unimaginable loss in 2008. And a few weeks ago, I was shocked to learn of the passing of Jim Cowan, president of Neutrik USA.
I met Jim at the airport in Zurich in June, 2000, while on a whirlwind trip to Neutrik’s Liechtenstein headquarters, to mark the company’s 25th anniversary. Over the next few days, Jim and Neutrik CEO Werner Bachmann treated myself and a few other U.S.-based audio types like royalty. Somehow we saw Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein and Germany in the space of a few days, during and between some of the most fabulous meals I’ve ever had. I’ll never forget, late one night and quite a few drinks into the evening, a half-dozen of us unwittingly crashing a private party–hosted by the local mayor, I think–at a small establishment, drinking entirely too much of what must be the world’s finest beer, stumbling back to our hotel while singing at the top of our lungs, and arising the next day to enjoy some more of that beer–with breakfast.
Though based in New Jersey, Jim was both the perfect host and traveling companion. We quickly discovered our mutual love for the Boston Red Sox, and in those pre-2004 days of the mythical “Curse of the Bambino,” a fellow sufferer was always good to have around. But that was a minor detail. Jim was just a great guy, one of the most friendly and generous people I’ve met in this industry. It is sad to know I won’t see him at the AES Convention next year.
But change is the only constant. From the Bhagavad Gita (and I only know this because of George Harrison): “There has never been a time when you and I have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. The wise are not deluded by these changes.”